Abstract: With Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps Quds Force (IRGC-QF) commander Qassem Soleimani dead, a key question before U.S. policymakers and analysts lies in the future of this unit, most closely associated with Iran’s troubling regional activities ranging from interventions in various conflicts and support for terrorist groups and insurgents. This article considers Soleimani’s legacy for the IRGC-QF, analyzes his successor’s characteristics, and assesses what the transition may mean for the organization. It argues that the IRGC-QF is unlikely to change its modus operandi significantly and that the new Quds Force commander, Esmail Qaani, is likely to ensure a smooth transition.

Qassem Soleimani is dead. The 62-year-old commander of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) elite unit known as the Quds Force (IRGC-QF) had long been one of the United States’ most effective foes. Often described as the “shadow commander,” Soleimani had played a key role in designing and executing Iran’s policies in Afghanistan, Iraq, Israel/Palestine, Lebanon, Syria, and Yemen. But his reach was not simply limited to those theaters and countries, though they were the most challenging for the United States. The network of non-state allies and partners Soleimani helped cultivate is now composed of thousands of forces in the region and its influence extends beyond the Middle East and South Asia. When President Trump made the decision to target Soleimani, the administration stated that it was acting to disrupt what it has described as an “imminent” attack and to reestablish deterrence—although this claim has been disputed.1 But it also likely hoped that the move would at least help to undermine the IRGC-QF and thwart its operations. To be sure, Soleimani occupied a unique place in Iran’s security architecture and in some ways, was perhaps unparalleled in his ability to advance Iranian national interests as viewed by the regime. But the degree to which Soleimani’s death will change the course of the Quds Force’s activities in the region and beyond is up for debate. To make sense of what that might mean going forward, it is critical to understand what the IRGC-QF could look like with Soleimani out of the equation.

The question of the implications of Soleimani’s death and the potential disruption or continuity in IRGC-QF activities is significant for a number of reasons. Today, Iran is directly and indirectly involved in half a dozen countries in its region from Afghanistan to Lebanon and Yemen. The IRGC-QF plays a central role in many of these theaters, and the network of non-state allies and partners the unit has helped cultivate counts thousands of forces across several different groups and organizations to include Lebanese Hezbollah, the Shia militias in Iraq, the Houthis in Yemen, and Fatemiyoun (Afghan Shi`a militia) and Zeinabiyoun (Pakistani Shi`a militia) in Syria. It remains to be seen if and how Soleimani’s death will change Iran’s footprint, the breadth, depth, and scope of Tehran’s relations with its proxies, and how the country intervenes abroad—primarily through ‘train and advise’ missions rather than direct and large deployments of troops. Under Soleimani, the IRGC-QF was instrumental in allowing Iran to compete with an otherwise conventionally superior and nuclear-armed adversary, the United States, and its partners and allies. With Soleimani gone, Washington must understand how Iran is likely to compete and how the IRGC-QF will fit in the Iranian national security and defense toolbox.

There are several reasons to believe that the IRGC-QF’s operations will not fundamentally shift following Soleimani’s death. These are divided into two broad categories: organizational and personal. First, on the organizational side, the force today is institutionalized and bureaucratic. It is far from the one-man show that one may assume existed based on Soleimani’s stature (an image that had been cultivated both top-down by the Islamic Republic in general and the IRGC in particular and bottom-up by a populace looking for a protector and eager to find solace amidst regional crises and threats). Second, currently very little is known about Soleimani’s successor, as he has largely operated under the radar. But what is known of him indicates that he is likely to replace Soleimani with ease and continue his work.

This article begins with a brief overview of the IRGC-QF and how it came into being. It discusses how the unit helped formalize a policy pre-dating it and, indeed, even the Islamic Republic itself. Next, this paper will discuss Soleimani’s leadership style and his legacy, before describing what is known of his successor, Esmail Qaani. Finally, the article will examine what is next for the IRGC-QF and what to expect in terms of Iranian policy going forward.

The Shadow Commander and the Quds Force
Iran established the IRGC-QF in 1990 to replace the Office of Liberation Movements (OLM) under direct order from Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei,2 who was then in the early stages of his tenure, having assumed the supreme leadership a year prior.

The OLM helped build the infrastructure for the IRGC-QF in the early 1980s. Its first major mission abroad was the deployment of a number of its forces to Lebanon in 1982 to help organize and support the Shi`a militias fighting against Israel’s occupation of southern Lebanon. Shortly thereafter, the OLM would play an important role in helping unite these militias under the banner of Lebanese Hezbollah.3 But it did not have to start its work from scratch. Indeed, already prior to the revolution, under the U.S.-aligned Mohammad Reza Pahlavi (known as the Shah), Iran was working to cultivate ties with various non-state partners in the region, including in Lebanon, Iraq, Yemen, and Afghanistan—in other words, countries where the Islamic Republic would intervene and/or support non-state actors.4 At the time, the main motivation for Tehran seeking such relationships resided in its Cold War fear of a communist takeover. Under the Shah, the main intelligence organization in the country—better known by its Persian acronym, SAVAK—was in charge of these relationships.5

The IRGC-QF was established to succeed the OLM, which had, in turn, taken over parts of the SAVAK’s mandate with the 1979 Islamic Revolution transforming the Imperial State of Iran into the Islamic Republic of Iran. The new elite force was designed to tackle the country’s regional interventions and proxy relations. In 1998, Soleimani became the IRGC-QF’s second commander, succeeding General Ahmad Vahidi. Far from a disruption in the nascent organization’s activities, Soleimani’s arrival helped it thrive and expand its efforts. Soleimani’s privileged relationship with Khamenei and the leader’s trust in the commander were instrumental in providing him with the leeway and resources needed to accomplish this.6 During Soleimani’s tenure, the Quds Force evolved into a fully fledged bureaucratic organization, with different departments, each overseeing various portfolios. The transition from Vahidi to Soleimani and the evolution of the IRGC-QF under the latter took place against the backdrop of growing concerns in Iran about the Taliban in neighboring Afghanistan in the 1990s. By the end of the decade, the two governments would come to the brink of war. Soleimani would seek to prevent such a conflict from materializing as he understood what warfare in a terrain such as that of Afghanistan and with tribes would entail.7 He would be instrumental to preventing Iran and Afghanistan engaging in a direct military exchange, choosing instead to undertake an ‘advise and assist’ mission whereby Tehran would support friendly entities, chiefly the Northern Alliance, as part of an effort that would continue until the collapse of the Taliban following the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan in 2001.8

Soleimani took over the Quds Force once the unit had been established and had already been operating, but he vastly expanded and institutionalized it. Due to the paramount importance of its portfolio, the force reported directly to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei who also appoints the unit’s commander.9 Soleimani was often seen sitting next to Khamenei during key events and by all indications shared an intimate and trusting relationship with him. In turn, this privileged access to the highest authority in the land helped propel Soleimani to a position very few had occupied in Iranian politics, often described as the second most powerful man in Iran. Demonstrating Soleimani’s importance to Iran in general and Khamenei personally, Khamenei attended and chaired the emergency meeting of the Supreme National Security Council held the day after Soleimani’s January 3, 2020, death where the Iranian response to the killing was likely discussed.10

Although the IRGC-QF’s mandate was primarily military in nature, its leadership often served as a second diplomatic corps for Iran. This was due to two main reasons. First, from a strategic and operational standpoint, given the primary role played by proxy forces in the Iranian defense doctrine and these forces’ presence in key regional states, it made sense for the IRGC-QF to also operate on a political track as well as its military one. Second, Soleimani was an incredibly effective operator, known for his charisma and ability to build, mature, and sustain relationships.11 Hence, Iran was able to use his ties to key individuals to advance its agenda. At home like abroad, Soleimani maintained good working relationships with key players, ranging from Iran’s foreign minister, Javad Zarif (mostly known for his pro-engagement stance and willingness to work with his American counterparts), to the heads of various terrorist groups and militias that his team trained, advised, and assisted.12

In neighboring Iraq, Soleimani played the role of power broker. Although he is best known in the United States for his work with the Shi`a militias, he also had relationships with the central authority and the Kurds.13 On some occasions, he had even been able to coordinate with Sunnis—albeit much less successfully given that he was largely associated in Iraq with Iranian sectarianism.a

Within his own force, Soleimani was known as a warm leader whose leadership style was distinct.14 For Americans who know Soleimani as the architect of so many nefarious activities and who had the blood of thousands of people, including many Americans, on his hands, this may sound strange. However, Soleimani cultivated the image of a down-to-earth leader who sat on the floor with his men and cried with them when a brother-in-arms died. To his men, Soleimani was not “general” or “commander,” despite being one of the most important figures in Iran. To them, he was simply, “Qassem” or “brother Qassem.”15 In fact, in describing what he characterized as Iran’s “ghostly puppet master,” U.S. General Stanley McChrystal used such unlikely words “humble,” “soft-spoken,” and a “calculating and practical strategist.”16

Soleimani clearly believed this style of leadership to be advantageous for his force. In his own words, Soleimani saw being personable as a key strength of Iranian military commanders during the Iran-Iraq War and strove to be such a leader himself.

One of our war’s specificities, which removed inequalities, laid in the initiatives that took place on the front of the Sacred Defense.b The difference between us and the world’s classic militaries was one word. If we want to know the difference between [Guard commanders] Hajj Ahmad Motevaselian, Hajj Hemmat […] and a classic military commander, in addition to spiritual and behavioral matters, it [boils down to] ‘come and go.’ This means that our commander would stand on the battlefield and go in the front and say ‘come,’ but the classic commander would stand in the back and say, ‘go.’ This […] had a great impact and brought about many sacrifices.17

In publicly available footage and images, Soleimani is seen embodying this thinking. In a number of IRGC-published material, including footage of his presence on the battlefield, Soleimani was approachable.18 He visited the battlefields of Syria and greeted every man on the frontline, exchanging pleasantries with them. This helped him build a cult following that was instrumental to maintaining morale.

Another strength of Soleimani’s approach was found in his careful navigation of the Iranian domestic political landscape. Soleimani took efforts to avoid being seen as too openly engaged in politics and mostly stayed above factional disputes. There were rare exceptions when he intervened—often privately, though at least on a few occasions also publicly to advocate for his preferred course of action, virtually always to ensure elite cohesion and national unity.19 For instance, in the summer of 1999, Soleimani co-signed a letter of warning to then President Mohammad Khatami, a reformist who had sought to moderate the regime at home and abroad.20 In the letter, Soleimani and his fellow IRGC leaders threatened to crack down on student protests if he refused to do so.21 In a perhaps more unexpected example of Soleimani’s stance toward domestic politics, Soleimani publicly advocated against alienating large swaths of the populace on ideological grounds in 2017 (albeit in the same paternalistic manner as the very individuals he was likely criticizing):

If we always use such titles as [women] without the hijab and hijabi, or reformist and conservative, then who is left? These are all our people. Are your children religious? Are they all the same to you? No. But a father will absorb all of them and society is your family. […] If we say it is just me and my own Hizbollahi buddies, this will not be protecting the revolution. The prayer leader must be able to absorb the hijabis and those who do not wear the veil together.22

That Soleimani often chose to preserve an apolitical image meant that when he did take a stance, his voice mattered. This willingness and ability to largely operate outside domestic politics was key to Soleimani’s success. He was able to develop effective working relationships with individuals belonging to different factions regardless of who occupied the helms of the executive branch. Similarly, at least until the rise of the Islamic State in 2014, Soleimani preferred to remain behind the scenes.23 And despite acquiescing to some publicity to reassure domestic audiences and deterring foreign adversaries, leading to a significant boost in his public profile, Soleimani often chose to operate in the shadows. He gave very few public interviews.

As has been outlined, Soleimani helped transform the IRGC-QF from a nascent and small unit into one of the main tools of power projection at Iran’s disposal. Soleimani achieved this in no small part due to his leadership style, which the Revolutionary Guards in general and Soleimani in particular hoped would stand in contrast to that prevalent in modern militaries. In contrast to the Shah’s military, the IRGC-QF sought to display the image of a fairly flat organization whose leaders were of the people and not above them. Soleimani left behind a well-established and bureaucratic organization, deeply ingrained in the Iranian security structure. It remains to be seen how the IRGC-QF will evolve after Soleimani. To understand this, the following sections will briefly describe what we know about his successor and what that can tell us about the future of the Quds Force.

In the Shadow of the Shadow Commander: Soleimani’s Successor
Just hours after Soleimani’s death, Khamenei appointed his successor.24 Brigadier General Esmail Qaani is unknown to most Iranians, let alone Americans. This is because he often operated in the shadow of the Shadow Commander.25 Like Soleimani, Qaani joined the IRGC as a young man.26 He was 20 when the Islamic Revolution toppled the Shah, leading to the institutionalization of a guerilla force that had been created during the events culminating in the establishment of the Islamic Republic in 1979: the IRGC. Shortly after, Iraq attacked Iran, starting the eight-year Iran-Iraq War (1980-1988).27 Qaani joined the war effort, and like Soleimani and many other important figures in the Iranian military landscape today, his experience as a veteran of the conflict shaped his worldview.

Among Qaani’s many duties during the war, he had responsibility overseeing two units that were partly composed of Afghan fighters.28 This is significant because some of the Afghan veterans of the Iran-Iraq War and/or their sons today belong to the Fatemiyoun forces, an Afghan Shi`a militia fighting in Syria to prop up the Assad regime.29 At the time of the Iran-Iraq War, these forces were embedded with Iranian forces.30 Some 2,000 Afghans reportedly died in that war.31 Following the Iran-Iraq War, Iran’s relationship with Afghan forces continued. At home, Iran was hosting millions of Afghan refugees. In Afghanistan, the Taliban overthrew the government of President Burhanuddin Rabbani in 1996, increasing Iranian concerns about an adversarial force. Tehran supported the Northern Alliance as a “counterforce” to the Taliban while avoiding direct military conflict with Kabul. Qaani oversaw Iran’s operations in Afghanistan and support for the Northern Alliance.32 Later, an Afghan veteran of the war who had lived in Iran, Ali Reza Tavasoli (better known by his nom de guerre, Abu Hamed), established the Fatemiyoun in 2012.33 The force reportedly started with some 22 fighters whose stated objective was to “defend the holy sites” in Syria.34 In practice, the force was created to support the Assad regime during the Syrian civil war (and to do so at a low cost for Iran). The fighters would be paid a few hundred dollars per month and promised residency rights to essentially serve as cannon fodder for Iran’s efforts in Syria.35 These Afghan forces deploying to Syria would fall under the purview of the IRGC-QF.36 Thanks to his decades-long experience with these fighters—in some cases, over two generations—as well as the Northern Alliance, Qaani may help further develop this aspect of Iran’s proxy relationship.

After the Iran-Iraq war, Qaani was tasked with carrying a number of different operations, ranging from suppression of dissent at home and counternarcotic and train-and-advise missions abroad.37 Later, he worked in intelligence and counterintelligence.38

Although he lacks the charisma, interpersonal skills, and accolades of his predecessor, Qaani bears striking resemblance to Soleimani in many respects.39 He was likely chosen in part due to the fact that he was well-positioned to oversee this period of transition and limit departure from Soleimani’s modus operandi. Qaani’s friendship and collaboration with Soleimani goes back to the early days of the Iran-Iraq War, as does his relationship with Khamenei.40 In fact, Soleimani had reportedly requested Qaani to join the IRGC-QF.41 Later, Qaani served as Soleimani’s deputy and worked alongside him for decades (likely having taken the position in the mid- to late 1990s).42 He, too, prefers to operate in the shadows (and was perhaps also instructed by Soleimani and even Khamenei to do so as part of his grooming to serve as a credible successor to Soleimani). Indeed, according to IRGC sources, Soleimani himself had nominated his successor and prepared the groundwork for the succession as he had anticipated that he would be killed at some point.43 Qaani has only given a handful of interviews to the press. In that sense, he appears eager to continue remaining largely out of domestic politics and focusing his efforts on the force’s operations in the region as his predecessor had done. Tellingly, after Qaani was appointed, Zarif stated that he had a good working relationship with Qaani (as he had with Soleimani), noting they had spoken several times since Qaani’s appointment as the new commander of the Quds Force.44 Qaani is regarded as an effective leader and one whose depth and breadth of experience is likely to help the IRGC-QF continue its operations abroad during this period of transition marked by U.S.-Iran tensions. Qaani has both supervised intelligence and operational portfolios and has a long track record of complementing Soleimani’s efforts in nearly all theaters of operation.45 c

Soleimani’s reliance on personal relationships was both a source of strength and a potential source of weakness for the Islamic Republic going forward. To be clear, there is no doubt that the IRGC-QF will continue its advise and assist missions to all the groups Soleimani had cultivated and potentially create and support new ones going forward. However, personal relations matter, and that is especially the case in a region where informal channels and personal relationships are often critical to the success of any player’s initiatives. Hence, Soleimani’s death and Qaani’s relative lack of charisma and interpersonal skills will no doubt have an impact on Iran-proxy leader-to-leader relations and Iran’s operations abroad—though a likely much less significant one that the United States may have hoped for when President Trump decided to target Soleimani.

This undated photo, released by the official website of the office of the Iranian supreme leader, shows the new commander of the Revolutionary Guard’s Quds Force, Brigadier General Esmail Qaani. (Office of the Iranian Supreme Leader/AP Photo)

Looking Ahead: What’s Next for the IRGC-QF?
Soleimani’s death may rob the Islamic Republic of a fairly (and unlikely) popular figure whose name recognition extended beyond the regime’s immediate base in Iran and proxies in the region.46 And, at least in the short-term, with Soleimani out of the picture, his forces (both the IRGC-QF and the proxies he helped cultivate and support) may see a drop in morale—which they may very well compensate for with an increased will to fight. That said, although the regime in general and the IRGC-QF in particular may be driven by revenge, the unit has demonstrated that it is pragmatic, and while Soleimani’s death certainly stokes emotions within the force (and the regime), his men are likely to continue to keep their strategic objectives in mind as they continue to formulate their response to the U.S. targeting of their leader. For example, while in Afghanistan the Quds Force may still largely refrain from taking destabilizing actions with security implications for its own country (given that the United States and Iran still share many overlapping objectives and interests there), the unit is likely to see Iraq and the Persian Gulf region as its primary areas of competition with and opportunity for revenge against the United States.

But there are other reasons to believe that the IRGC-QF will continue its most nefarious activities in the region and beyond. Soleimani helped build an adaptable institution that would outlast him. During his tenure, the organization grew and became more effective. The IRGC-QF is now able to train, advise, assist, mobilize, and deploy forces in different theaters (sending Pakistani fighters to go fight in Syria, for example), not just support local militias as it once did (supporting Lebanese militias in Lebanon).47 Qaani’s leadership style may differ in some ways from Soleimani’s, but it is nonetheless likely to be generally aligned with the approach of his predecessor. The likely impact of the targeted killing is akin to a well-established sports team losing a reputable and effective coach. The team’s performance may take a hit, but it will continue to exist and play the game. If the ‘new coach’ is of a comparable caliber and has a similar style, the team may be able to minimize the potential hurdles of a transition. In this case, a less charismatic Qaani may be unable to fully fill his predecessor’s shoes and rise to his status, but he is likely to guarantee a certain level of continuity. And in this, he is supported by an entire bureaucracy, which is likely to minimize any disturbance caused by leadership decapitation.

In some areas, Qaani’s past experience may even help the IRGC-QF further develop certain core competencies and relationships. For example, given his experience commanding units with significant Afghan populations during the Iran-Iraq War, his understanding of Taliban rule in the 1990s, and his relationships with the Afghan militias established since the Iran-Iraq War to support Iran’s efforts in Syria, Qaani may be well-positioned to help the Fatemiyoun develop further and adjust to whatever may come next. With the Syrian civil war winding down, the Fatemiyoun (Afghan Shi`a militia) fighters could turn their attention to a different battlefield. After all, the forces were not local to Syria and they were mobilized to be deployed in a foreign country (Syria).48 Now, they are organized and combat experienced. Iran could send them to Afghanistan to advance its objectives there (especially in the event that U.S.-Iran competition and tensions in the region spill over into that country) or even redirect them to a third theater. For example, the Fatemiyoun could be redirected to Iraq if the situation continues to degrade there or to Yemen if the ongoing war in that country does not end. After all, having promised residency rights for the fighters and their families that could entail access to healthcare and free education at a time when Iran’s economy is crumbling, the regime would have an incentive not just to leverage these forces’ experience and know-how but also to avoid paying them what it has promised when and if these fighters return from war.

More broadly, given that the IRGC-QF’s tactics and operations have borrowed elements from preceding organizations (from the SAVAK to OLM) to advance its interests, it is unlikely to depart from them fundamentally. Instead, it can be expected that there will be tweaks and an evolution in the IRGC-QF’s modus operandi but not an entirely new playbook. After all, if the past four decades of the Iranian experience—which have included war, sanctions, isolation, and domestic unrest—demonstrate anything, it is that the IRGC in general and the IRGC-QF in particular are resilient and adaptive.     CTC

Ariane M. Tabatabai is an associate political scientist at the RAND Corporation and an adjunct senior research scholar at Columbia University. Her forthcoming book, No Conquest, No Defeat: Iran’s National Security Strategy, assesses Iranian strategic thinking and security policies. The author is grateful to Christine Wormuth for helpful feedback on earlier drafts of this article. Follow @ArianeTabatabai

Substantive Notes
[a] For example, in its counter-Islamic State efforts, Iran attempted to recruit Sunnis to fight alongside Iranian-backed Shi`a militias in an effort to undermine the narrative of Iran as a sectarian player—which parts of the regime saw as counterproductive. By its own estimates, however, Tehran was not able to mobilize more than a few hundred Sunnis to join its campaign. Author interviews, senior Iranian officials, Tehran, Berlin, and Vienna, 2013-2016.

[b] This is the term used by Iranian officials and military leaders to refer to the Iran-Iraq War (1980-1988).

[c] Qaani’s successor as the IRGC-QF deputy commander is General Mohammad Hejazi. Hejazi was appointed by IRGC commander-in-chief, Major General Hossein Salami. Hejazi complements Qaani’s experience and skills, having served in the IRGC since its founding. Also a veteran of the Iran-Iraq War, Hejazi was involved with the Basij militias, the crackdown on the 2009 Green Movement, and in operations in Lebanon. His profile stands in contrast to that of Soleimani in some ways, having earned graduate degrees (including a doctorate). “Gozaresh | Ba Savabeq-e Janeshin-e Jadid-e Niru-ye Quds-e Sepah Ashna Shavid,” Tasnim News, January 20, 2020.

[1] Peter Baker and Thomas Gibbons-Neff, “Esper Says He Saw No Evidence Iran Targeted 4 Embassies, As Story Shifts Again,” New York Times, January 12, 2020.

[2] Kenneth Pollack, The Persian Puzzle (New York: Random House, 2004), p. 198; “Fact Sheet: Designation of Iranian Entities and Individuals for Proliferation Activities and Support for Terrorism,” U.S. Department of Treasury, October 25, 2007.

[3] Magnus Ranstorp, “The Hezbollah Training Camps of Lebanon,” in James J.F. Forest ed., The Making of a Terrorist, Volume II: Training (Westport, CT: Praeger, 2006), p. 244.

[4] Joseph Felter and Brian Fishman, Iranian Strategy in Iraq (West Point, NY: Combating Terrorism Center, 2008); Anthony H. Cordesman, “Iran’s Support of the Hezbollah in Lebanon,” Center for Strategic and International Studies, July 15, 2006; Abbas William Samii, “The Shah’s Lebanon Policy: The Role of the SAVAK,” Middle Eastern Studies 33:1 (1997): p. 67; Arash Reisinezhad, The Shah of Iran, the Iraqi Kurds, and the Lebanese Shia (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2019), p. 2.

[5] Samii, pp. 67-70.

[6] Nakissa Jahanbani, “Beyond Soleimani: Implications for Iran’s Proxy Network in Iraq and Syria,” CTC Perspectives, January 10, 2020.

[7] “Darbareh-ye Sardar Qassem Soleimani,” IRNA, January 3, 2020.

[8] Mohsen Milani, “Iran’s Policy Toward Afghanistan,” Middle East Journal 60:2 (2006), p. 236.

[9] See Ali Soufan, “Qassem Soleimani and Iran’s Unique Regional Strategy,” CTC Sentinel 11:10 (2018) and “Gen. Soleimani’s Mission to Continue Unabated, Senior General Says,” Tasnim News, January 4, 2020.

[10] “Taaeed-e Jalaseh-ye Rahbar-e Enqelab ba Aza-ye Shura-ye Aali-e Amniat Baad Az Shahadat-e Sardar Soleimani,” Donya-e Eqtesad, January 3, 2020.

[11] See Soufan.

[12] Author interviews, senior Iranian officials, Tehran, Berlin, New York, and Vienna, 2014-2017.

[13] Author interviews, Iranian officials, Tehran, and Vienna, 2013-2015.

[14] Soufan, p. 2; Stanley McChrystal, “Iran’s Deadly Puppet Master,” Foreign Policy, Winter 2019.

[15] Ali Akbari Mozdabadi, Hajj Qassem (Tehran: Ya Zahra Publishers, 2014), p. 139.

[16] McChrystal.

[17] “Speech from February 2013,” Ali Akbari Mozdabadi, Hajj Qassem, p. 137.

[18] For example, “Film-e Jaded Az Hozur-e Sardar Soleimani Dar Khatt-e Moqadam-e Jang ba Da’esh,” Tasnim News, December 1, 2017.

[19] Author interviews, senior Iranian officials, Berlin, New York, and Vienna, 2015-2017.

[20] Sune Engel Rasmussen, “Qassem Soleimani, Powerful Iranian Commander and U.S. Foe, Is Dead,” Wall Street Journal, January 3, 2020.

[21] Ibid.

[22] “Sardar Soleimani: Imam-e Jamaat Bayad Ba Hijab va Bihijab Ra Ba Ham Jazb Konad,” Donya-ye Eqtesad, July 23, 2017.

[23] McChrystal.

[24] “Ba Hokm-e Rahbar-e Moazam-e Enqelab/Sardar Esmail Qaani Farmandeh-ye Niru-ye Quds-e Sepah Shod,” Tasnim News, January 3, 2020.

[25] “Gozaresh | Sardar Qaani; Farmandeh-ye dar Sayeh-ee Ke Beh Maydan Amad / Harekat-e Porshetab Dar Maseer-r Hajj Qassem,” Tasnim News, January 4, 2020.

[26] Soufan, p. 2; McChrystal.

[27] For a timeline of the war, see “Iran-Iraq War Timeline,” Wilson Center.

[28] “Gozaresh | Sardar Qaani.”

[29] Mohsen Hamidi, “The Two Faces of the Fatemiyoun (I): Revisiting the Male Fighters,” Afghanistan Analysts Network, July 8, 2019.

[30] Lars Hauch, “Understanding the Fatemiyoun Division: Life Through the Eyes of A Militia Member,” Middle East Institute, May 22, 2019; “Amozesh-e Tirandazi-e Razmandegan-e Fatemiyoun dar Surieh+Film,” Tasnim News, January 24, 2018; “Didar-e Sardar Soleimani ba Khanevadeh-ye Shahid Tavassoli,” Press TV, August 2, 2016; “Abu Hamed: Farmandeh-e Jahad-e Bedun-eMmarz,” Javaan, May 9, 2015.

[31] “Abu Hamed: Farmandeh-e Jahad-e Bedun-e Marz.”

[32] Milani, pp. 242-243; “Farmandeh-ye Tazeh-ye Niru-ye Quds-e Sepah-e Pasdaran-e Iran Kist?” Tolo News, January 5, 2020.

[33] “Amozesh-e Tirandazi-e Razmandegan-e Fatemiyoun dar Surieh+Film.”

[34] “Didar-e Sardar Soleimani Ba Khanevadeh-ye Shahid Tavassoli,” Press TV, August 2, 2016.

[35] Pamela Constable, “Recruited by Iran to Fight for Syrian Regime, Young Afghans Bring Home Cash and Scars,” Washington Post, July 29, 2018; Mujib Mashal and Fatima Faizi, “Iran Sent Them to Syria. Now Afghan Fighters Are a Worry at Home,” New York Times, November 11, 2017.

[36] Hauch; “Didar-e Sardar Soleimani.”

[37] Ali Alfoneh, “Esmail Qaani: The Next Revolutionary Guards Quds Force Commander?” American Enterprise Institute, January 11, 2012.

[38] Ibid.

[39] Ibid.

[40] Ibid.; “Gozaresh | Sardar Qaani.”

[41] Ibid.

[42] See, for example, “Yaddasht | Hajj Esmail Behtarin Badil-e Hajj Qassem,” Tasnim News, January 4, 2020; Alfoneh.

[43] “Gozaresh | Sardar Qaani.”

[44] Ibid.

[45] Ibid.

[46] Jahanbani.

[47] See Colin Clarke and Phillip Smyth, “The Implications of Iran’s Expanding Shi`a Foreign Fighter Network,” CTC Sentinel 10:10 (2017).

[48] Ibid.

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